24 May 2018
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Statistics and Mapping Section
This guide provides a brief overview of
unemployment, an introduction to the key concepts and terminology, and lists
relevant data sources. This is one in a series of statistical quick guides,
designed to provide a basic understanding of Australian labour market data.
Other guides include labour
unemployment, which are available from the Parliamentary
In the labour force
framework, unemployed people form part of the currently active population, who
along with the employed constitute the labour force (see diagram below).
Labour force framework
Source: ABS, Labour Statistics: Concepts, sources and methods, Feb
2018, cat. no. 6102.0.55.001
Who are unemployed people?
The International Labour
Organization (ILO) describes unemployed people as those who, during a
specific recent period, were: not working; available to work; and undertaking
activities to seek work. The concept of ‘without work’ is used to distinguish
unemployed people from the employed. A person must not have undertaken any work
at all (not even for one hour) during the reference period.
How is unemployment measured?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
conducts a monthly Labour
Force Survey. This household survey is designed to produce key
estimates of unemployment (and employment) from a sample of approximately 50,000
persons are defined as all persons aged 15 years and over who were not
employed during the reference week and:
- had actively looked for work and were available to work (in the
reference week), or
- were waiting to start a new job.
Note that the Labour Force Survey
excludes some groups of people, including those living in institutions, members
of Australian permanent defence forces, certain diplomatic personnel, and
overseas residents. More information is available from the ABS.
Active steps to find work
The concept of ‘actively looking for work’
requires a person to have undertaken at least one active step in the search for
work at any time in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week. Active steps are considered those which put a
person in contact with a prospective employer, either directly or through an
intermediary. The types of steps include:
registering with an employment agency
applying for jobs with employers
- undertaking an interview with an employer
- placing or answering job advertisements, and
- seeking assistance from friends or relatives to find a job.
Steps taken towards the establishment of an
enterprise for self-employment are also considered to be active. A general
declaration of being ‘in search of work’ is not sufficient for someone to be
classified as unemployed. Prior to July 2014, the types of activities that the
ABS considered to be ‘active’ varied slightly.
Waiting to start a new job
In recognition that not all job seekers are
able to immediately start their new job once offered, anyone expecting to start
a new job within four weeks from the end of the reference week is classified as
unemployed if they were available to start work during the reference week.
What are the key measures?
The number of unemployed people (head count)
month the ABS
estimates the number of unemployed people, releasing trend, seasonally adjusted
and original data. Unemployment data is available by age, sex, social marital
status, country of birth (limited), state/territory, labour market region,
full-time educational attendance (youth only), and duration of job search.
in the number of unemployed people (increases or decreases in the number of
‘jobseekers’) are sometimes mistakenly referred to as gains or losses of jobs.
While the loss of a job certainly may lead to a person being classified as
unemployed, it is whether or not they are employed that is being measured.
Graph 1 provides changes in the number of unemployed people from the start of
the data series until the most recent period.
1. Unemployed persons—trend
Source: ABS, Labour force, Mar 2018, cat. no. 6202.0
2 provides the share of total unemployed people who were looking for full-time
work. The ABS also measures the number of unemployed people seeking part-time
2. Share of total
unemployed who were looking for full-time work—trend
Source: ABS, Labour force, Mar 2018, cat. no. 6202.0
is unemployed people expressed as a proportion of the labour force (in the same
age group). This key measure is used to assess the availability of jobs in the
labour market. A high rate reflects that there are more people actively looking
for work than there are jobs available. Graph 3 provides the unemployment rate
from the start of the data series until the most recent period.
3. Unemployment rate—trend
Source: ABS, Labour force, Mar 2018, cat. no. 6202.0
The Parliamentary Library provides regular
updates on unemployment (based on ABS data) in the Monthly Statistical Bulletin,
see: 1.2 Unemployment.
This section provides a brief overview of
long-term unemployment, with more detailed information available in a separate Parliamentary
The long-term unemployed
are unemployed people who have not worked for 52 weeks or longer.
Duration of job search
The ABS measures the duration of job search
as the period of time that has elapsed since an unemployed person began looking
for work (and was available to work). The period is measured up to the end of
the survey reference week. Any brief period of work (greater than one hour)
during the job seeking period will result in a break in the period of looking.
Prior to July 2014, the ABS measured the duration of unemployment based on
different parameters, see Information
paper: Forthcoming changes to labour force statistics, Jun 2014 (cat.
Graph 4 (on the next
page) provides changes in the number of long-term unemployed people from the
start of the data series until the most recent period. Breaks in the series,
due to the introduction of new survey questionnaires have been highlighted at
April 2001 and July 2014. For more information see paragraph 18 of the
‘Explanatory notes’ tab, Labour force
(cat. no. 6202.0).
4. Long-term unemployed people—trend
Source: ABS, Labour force, detailed – electronic delivery, Mar 2018, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001
Long-term unemployment ratio
unemployment ratio expresses the number of people unemployed for 52
weeks or more as a proportion of all unemployed people. Time series data is
available from the Parliamentary Library’s Monthly
Statistical Bulletin, see ‘1.4 Long-term unemployment’.
Two separate quick guides on youth
unemployment are available from the Parliamentary Library website. The
first contains information on various measures that may be used to assess youth
unemployment, such as the youth unemployment rate and ratio. The second
provides information on regional statistics, see: Youth
unemployment statistics for small geographic areas. Regular updates of
youth unemployment (based on ABS data) are available from the Parliamentary
Statistical Bulletin, see: 1.5 Youth unemployment.
What are the key sources of ABS unemployment
Force Survey (cat. no. 6202.0) and Labour
force, detailed–electronic delivery (cat. no. 6291.0.55.001) are the key
sources of unemployment data. More specialised data is available from Labour
force, detailed quarterly (cat. no. 6291.0.55.003), including volume
measures of underutilisation, last job information (e.g. retrenchment), and a
range of personal characteristics.
Is electorate level data available?
For clients of the Library, the Statistics
and Mapping Section publishes a quarterly series of smoothed unemployment
estimates for electorates (2016 boundaries). These are updated following
the release of the Department of Jobs and Small Business estimates of
unemployment for small area labour markets. Caution should be used when
interpreting the data, particularly period to period movements. Note that
estimates of employment are not available from this source. For more
information see the ‘Labour’ page via the Library portal.
Where do I find regional data?
force, detailed – electronic delivery, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001
provides monthly unemployment data for the smallest available geographic areas
(excluding the Census), see: Table 16, Table 16b (annual average series), Table
16c and Data Cubes RM1 and RM3. Most of the data is from the original
(unadjusted) series and, due to the small sample sizes, the sampling errors with
some estimates may be quite high. The use of an annual average is recommended,
as is caution when interpreting the data.
Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4) or ABS ‘Labour market
are designed for the dissemination of labour force estimates and to reflect key
labour markets within each state and territory. They cover 87 spatial areas
across Australia. For Library clients, a correspondence between Commonwealth
Electoral Divisions and selected geographies (including SA4s) is available via
the Library portal,
see ‘Your electorate’ > ‘Population’.
The Department of
Jobs and Small Business publish selected ABS regional labour force data
(SA4) on their Labour Market
Where do I find data for smaller
five-yearly Census of Population and Housing provides data for
small statistical areas, including Commonwealth Electoral Divisions (2016
boundaries). The most recent Census was held in August 2016. The General
Community Profile series provides selected information, including:
labour force status (by age and sex), employment rates, full-time and part-time
workers, industry of employment and occupation. Caution should be used when
interpreting the data, as it relates to a specific week in August 2016 and may
not reflect the current labour market situation.
Department of Jobs and Small Business publish unemployment estimates based on
Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2s, geographic areas smaller than SA4s) and Local
Government Areas (LGAs) in the quarterly Small
Area Labour Markets publication. Through the Labour Market Information Portal,
the Department also provides Employment Regions data, including jobactive
caseload figures and Centrelink populations.
Where do I find data on jobseekers
Parliamentary Library’s Monthly
Statistical Bulletin provides regular updates of jobseeker numbers,
see: 1.8 Jobseekers receiving allowances.
Department of Social Services’ publication, Labour
market and related payments monthly profile, provides more
extensive data on Newstart (and some other benefit) recipients based on administrative
data. Note that the figures vary to those released by the ABS due to differing
methodologies in calculating ‘unemployed’ persons. See the ‘Appendix’ for more information.
Where can I find the number of monthly
The Parliamentary Library’s Monthly Statistical Bulletin
provides the monthly trend series of ANZ job ads (internet and newspapers), see:
1.6 ANZ job advertisements.
Where can I find international
Statistical Bulletin provides international comparisons of unemployment,
see: 8.3 Unemployment rates.
OECD Data provides
summary labour force indicators, including comparison unemployment rates, for
OECD member countries.
What other sources provide data on the
ABS releases publications from a range of supplementary labour, household
and social surveys. A summary of the most relevant sources follows.
survey provides information on people looking for work, or potentially able to
look for work. It includes details of difficulties finding work, types of
activities taken to find work and reasons people may have not been actively
looking for work (e.g. child care). It also publishes measures of extended
labour force underutilisation and information on the recently employed.
incentives to labour force participation, cat. no. 6239.0
survey provides information on unemployed people, the underemployed and those
who were not in the labour force. It covers similar themes to the
aforementioned survey, but with more detail in some areas. It includes reasons
people were not available to start work (e.g. long-term sickness), as well as
incentives that could assist in encouraging people to participate in the labour
force (e.g. ability to work part-time hours or financial assistance with
work, cat. no. 6227.0
survey provides information on people’s involvement in education and work,
their current studies, transitions into work and demographic characteristics
(for people aged 15 to 74 years). It includes labour force status by
educational attainment, such as highest non-school qualification. It also
provides a measure of people’s level of engagement in employment or study.
income and wealth, cat. no. 6523.0
survey provides information at a household, as well as a person level. Data is
available on the types of income a household receives (e.g. Government
benefits, employee salary), as well as snapshots of the labour force status of
the household (e.g. one employed, no employed, at least one unemployed) by
various types of indicators (e.g. wealth quintiles, gross household income,
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